Daniel Elbaum

3 reasons why Israel’s presidential election matters

There is nothing like waking up to the news that one of the main people who hired you was just elected president of Israel.

That was precisely my experience on Wednesday, when The Jewish Agency for Israel’s Chairman of the Executive Isaac “Bougie” Herzog was elected Israel’s 11th president. For the typical nonprofit organization, losing a CEO would not be a cause for celebration. But at The Jewish Agency, although this news is somewhat bittersweet for us, we understand that Herzog’s election marks a historic moment for Jews around the world.

Many American Jews may not pay attention to this election, but they should. Here are three reasons why.

A unifying figure

After four elections, it is perhaps an understatement to say that Israel is divided politically. Yet 87 of 120 Members of Knesset (MKs) of all backgrounds chose to support Herzog, marking the largest victory in any presidential election in Israel’s history. At its finest moments, the role of president of Israel has been a unifying force. With continued political uncertainty, the Covid pandemic and a recent war with Hamas, the need for a president to bring Israel together has never been greater.

Witnessing this type of consensus from the Knesset is exceedingly rare. By comparison, Israel’s last presidential election in 2014 was decided by a thin margin (with 63 MKs voting for the winner) in a runoff. Herzog will provide Israel with a unifying figure at a time when the country needs that arguably more than ever.

Harmony with world Jewry

With a ton of respect and reverence for his predecessors, Israel has never had a president more in tune with the concerns of American and world Jewry.

Herzog has visited our Jewish Federations, prayed in our synagogues, and listened to and shared our concerns, including during his numerous tours of global Jewish communities as leader of The Jewish Agency. His U.S. roots go even deeper, as he attended a Jewish high school in New York City before studying at Cornell University and New York University. Now, Herzog brings his warm and longstanding connection with world Jewry to the Israeli presidency, a development that will undoubtedly influence the government’s policies toward issues prioritized by Jews worldwide. We won’t always be happy with the outcome, but we will have no doubt that the president of Israel understands our concerns in a deep and profound way.

The Knesset’s overwhelming support for Herzog’s presidential candidacy sends an unmistakable message that the values he championed at The Jewish Agency – from strengthening the Israel-global Jewry relationship to supporting diverse streams of Judaism — strongly resonate with the Israeli legislature.

A people person

It may sound cliché, but like his predecessor President Reuven Rivlin, character matters — especially in politics, where human decency often feels elusive.

As I learned when I joined The Jewish Agency almost three months ago, nearly every single person I have met has a special “Bougie Herzog story.” Whether he is checking in on a relative in Israel or taking an extra moment to make a person feel heard and appreciated, Herzog has always embodied the words of Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

The enormity of the margin of Herzog’s victory in the Knesset pays eloquent tribute to his ability to connect with people of all backgrounds and beliefs. His election represents a watershed moment of unity for Israel and the Jewish people. I am going to miss working with him, but I take comfort knowing The Jewish Agency’s work connecting Jews around the world to Israel will have a friend, ally and partner in the president’s office.

About the Author
Dan Elbaum is head of North America at The Jewish Agency for Israel and the president and CEO of Jewish Agency International Development.
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